It’s often said the road to Birmingham leads through the Northwest Regional Tournament at Wallace State.
That indeed turned out to be the case in 2013 for three of this year’s 24 boys contenders — Class 5A Wenonah, 3A Madison Academy and 2A Tanner.
That trio, as well as the rest of the field, will take Tom Drake Coliseum by storm starting Tuesday with the largest schools — 6A — and the smallest — 1A. Wednesday will see 5A and 2A join in the fun, followed by 4A and 3A on Thursday. Titles will be doled out on Friday and Saturday.
Real-time stats for every game this week will be available at www.wallacestate.edu/nwregionals.
Admission is $8 for single entry or $30 for a week-long pass. Parking is $3.
Take a peek at a primer of the field:
% Hazel Green (21-12) vs. Bessemer City (17-7), Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.
% Bob Jones (18-11) vs. Minor (18-12), Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.
% Hazel Green: The Trojans have been a mainstay at Wallace State for the last three years and are the only team back from the 2013 6A field. The 2012 regional champs fell 64-59 to Sparkman in double overtime of last season’s regional final. Hazel Green split with Bob Jones in two close contests this season. Ethan Stair and UAB signee Lewis Sullivan led Hazel Green to a 55-48 sub-regional win over Decatur.
% Bessemer City: The Tigers are hoping their magic didn’t run out on a last-second shot at the sub-regional stage. Johnathan Coleman’s close-range jumper vaulted Bessemer City to a 65-64 win over Hoover. Micah Fuller boasted 28 points, and Alexander Johnson had 13 in the thriller. The Tigers lost to Minor 71-64 back in November.
% Bob Jones: Like Bessemer City, the Patriots had to fight tooth and nail to punch their ticket to the Northwest Regional Tournament. The Patriots briefly lost their lead in the fourth quarter before regaining it for good in a 55-53 knee-knocker against James Clemens in Friday’s sub-regional. Josh Mitchell (23 points), Tanner Finley (12) and Dalton Barkley (11) carried the offensive load for Bob Jones.
% Minor: A year away from Wallace State was too long for the Tigers, who eked by Tuscaloosa County 59-55 to rejoin the fun at the junior college in Hanceville. Minor hasn’t come out on top of a regional contest since pulling off the feat twice in a row in 1997 and 1998.
% No. 10 Cullman (24-7) vs. No. 6 Parker (19-6), Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
% No. 2 Wenonah (23-7) vs. No. 3 Athens (26-3), Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
% Cullman: Coach Bobby Meyer fully believes this year’s 5A state champion will come out of this bracket — and he’s not exactly crazy for believing so. The Bearcats have just as much of a chance as their tradition-rich contenders, especially considering their “#Fast32” philosophy and current 11-game win streak. Lawson Schaffer and Seth Swalve are always threats to put up big-time points, while guys like Chase Slocumb, Lane Donaldson and Auston Neal are more than capable of helping carry the offensive load. The Black and Gold are 2-3 at Tom Drake Coliseum this season but have improve drastically since an 0-2 showing at the Wallace State Regional Tip-off Challenge.
% Parker: The Thundering Herd, who generally score in the 50- to 60-point range, will likely have to pick up the pace — or at least try to slow it down — against the fleet-footed Cats. They’re licking their lips for a fourth shot at Wenonah this season. Parker was edged 68-67 in December, won 53-36 in January and narrowly fell 49-47 in the area championship just this month. The Herd lost 58-54 to the Dragons in last year’s regional final.
% Wenonah: These aren’t the Dragons of yesteryear, but that doesn’t mean they should be taken lightly. The three-time defending 5A state champs will first look to add a fifth straight Northwest Regional Tournament title when they hit the floor Wednesday versus Athens. Wenonah is waltzing to Wallace State with a new state record for most points in a game after dismantling Hayden 154-56 last Friday. Justin Coleman and Marcus Williams both picked up 31 points in the rout. Coleman completed a triple-double with 13 steals and 10 assists.
% Athens: The Golden Eagles were Giddy to get back to Wallace State for the third year in a row. Giddy Potts scored 28 points and pulled down 16 rebounds in the 67-42 sub-regional victory that sealed the deal. Athens, winners of 23 straight, haven’t lost since a 95-90 shootout Dec. 6 versus Lawrence County. The other two defeats came against 6As Buckhorn and James Clemens. The Golden Eagles lost to Parker in last year’s semifinals after making a regional championship appearance in 2012. They’re seeking their first state berth since 2005.
% East Lawrence (16-7) vs. No. 3 J.O. Johnson (22-4), Thursday at 4:30 p.m.
% West Limestone (20-12) vs. Butler (12-11), Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
% East Lawrence: The Eagles are the lone 4A team that wasn’t at Wallace State in 2013. Down by seven at the end of the first quarter and four by halftime, East Lawrence stormed back to eliminate Wilson with a slim 52-49 final. Malik Garth accounted for 21 points, while Dewan Watkins tacked on 11 in the sub-regional win. The Eagles are seeking their first regional victory since 2004. They were eliminated by Butler during their last trip in 2011.
% J.O. Johnson: The Jaguars are back on the floor where their 2013-14 campaign began. They’re hoping for a similar result, too, after starting the season with a 90-78 win over Cullman at the inaugural Wallace State Regional Tip-off Challenge. J.O. Johnson is the reigning regional tourney champ. The Jags walloped West Limestone and then notched a 12-point triumph over Butler to take the trophy for themselves. J.O. Johnson has bested the Bulldogs by double digits twice this season.
% West Limestone: The Wildcats are making the short drive south for the fifth year in a row. They’ll be looking to make up for a 34-point loss to J.O. Johnson in the 2013 regional semifinals. West Limestone has reached the tourney title tilt twice since 2010. Zane Griffin (15 points), Jacob Martin (13) and Grant Baugher (13) lifted the Wildcats to a 62-58 sub-regional victory over Haleyville.
% Butler: There hasn’t been a Northwest Regional Tournament without the Bulldogs in it for the last 10 years. They’ll try to bump that run to 11 following a semifinal showdown with West Limestone, the very team Butler beat for their last title in 2012. J.O. Johnson got the best of the Bulldogs in last year’s championship. Butler has a pair of signature wins this season against Parker. The Bulldogs went 2-1 in their season series with Cullman. They trailed by 14 entering the fourth quarter of both wins.
% Vinemont (14-15) vs. No. 2 Madison Academy (19-13), Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
% Hanceville (23-7) vs. Colbert County (20-6), Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
% Vinemont: Records don’t matter much to Todd Johnson’s Eagles, who’ve stepped up to the challenge time and time again late in the regular season and in the early stages of the playoffs. A seven-game skid dating from late November to mid-December is a distance memory for Vinemont, which heads into its first regional tourney since 2003 with six wins in its last nine chances. Two of the three losses have come in close fashion to Hanceville, the county and area rival the Red and White beat back in November. Lance Stanley is a more-than reliable shooter, while seniors Garrett Sipe, Austin Mosley, Austan Hedgecock and Riley Foust are worthwhile contributors. The Eagles are still riding high on a 61-53 upset of then- 21-5 Hamilton Friday on the road.
% Madison Academy: The defending state champs are still a deadly team, even without the services sophomore sensation Josh Langford and junior Kerryon Johnson for the remainder of the postseason. The Mustangs instead turned to Will Acuff in an 81-70 sub-regional win. He had six 3’s and 21 points, while big man Zach Bogardus added 13. Madison Academy squeaked by Mars Hill Bible 48-45 to win last year’s regional tourney title. The ‘Stangs swept this season’s series against Holly Pond.
% Hanceville: The Brontae Harris show has given way to the most complete team the Bulldogs have fielded in quite some team. Harris is still deadly in all phases — especially on offense — but he’s not a solo act anymore. Seniors Keith Twitty and Chris Smith give the Dawgs an edge both outside and inside, while sophomore Xavier Malcom has been a welcomed addition at point guard. Dant’e Reese rounds out a solid starting five, and Marshall Johnson, Matt Burns and Christian Sellers add to a steady supporting cast. The Purple and Gold will try to remedy the “sour taste” left in their mouths left by a 24-point loss to Madison Academy in the first round of last year’s regional tourney. Twitty nailed four 3’s and had 16 of his team-high 20 points in Hanceville’s 74-71 sub-regional triumph over Winfield. Harris also aided the winning effort with 17 points.
% Colbert County: The Indians kicked off the winter with a bang, winning nine of their first 10 games and 13 of their first 15. This’ll be their first regional appearance at Wallace State since 2008, when they bounced Good Hope in a 46-36 decision. Colbert County claimed back-to-back regional championships in 2001 and 2002. The Indians moved on with a 67-58 sub-regional win versus Westminster Christian.
% No. 9 Cold Springs (22-9) vs. Tanner (18-8), Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.
% Lexington (21-10) vs. Vincent (15-13), Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
% Cold Springs: It’s hard to find a more exciting team to follow right now than Tim Willoughby’s Eagles, who’ve used comeback after comeback — after comeback — to reel off 10 consecutive wins and their first Cullman County championship since 2008. Sophomore studs Triston Chambers and Josh Freeman aren’t easy to stop, especially when both are clicking at the same time. Layne Rice is Cold Springs’ trusty senior and 3-point specialist, while Adam Carney has been the definition of clutch off the bench in crunch time. Austin Moore and Tyler Rice are other Eagles to keep an eye on. Chambers, Freeman and Rice helped the Blue and Gold escape an overtime thriller against Holy Family with a 59-54 win last Friday. Cold Springs has four losses to Tanner since 2008, including three at the regional level.
% Tanner: The Rattlers have been involved in every Northwest Regional Tournament final since 2007. They’ll make their latest trip to Wallace State as the reigning 2A state champs and title holders in two of the last three seasons. All of Tanner’s losses this season have come to opponents classified in 4A or above. The Rattlers cruised past sub-regional foe Cherokee in an 84-54 landslide. Desmond Love paved the way to victory with 20 points. Jonathan Fletcher had 15.
% Lexington: The Golden Bears are just another piece of the 2A puzzle that’s historically struggled against Tanner. Go figure. Just this season, Lexington has already lost twice to the Rattlers, both by double-digit margins. Tanner’s eliminated the Bears each of the last three years. Lexington almost didn’t make it to Wallace State, needing overtime after leading by 15 at the half in a 72-67 win against Colbert Heights. Logan Allen scored 16 of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Tyler Northington was good for 20.
% Vincent: The Yellow Jackets limped into the playoffs but haven’t been stopped since area tourney time. Vincent topped Fultondale and Holy Family to set up a home sub-regional bout versus Lamar County, which it won 58-46. Roderick Brown scored 16 points, and E.J. Datcher added 11 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks in the win. Tanner took out the Yellow Jackets in last year’s regional semifinal.
% No. 9 Belgreen (27-3) vs. Sumiton Christian (21-8), Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
% No. 7 Phillips (23-6) vs. No. 3 Parrish (25-2), Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
% Belgreen: It doesn’t get much better than an 11-game tear to start the season. How about a 16-of-19 clip since? The Bulldogs are hoping to ride that wave of momentum to their first regional win since 2000. Despite four straight sub-region berths (2010-13), Belgreen hadn’t been a regional contender since 2003. The Bulldogs only defeats this season were to 3A Deshler (71-59), Phillips (85-84) and 4A Haleyville (66-61). They crushed Covenant Christian 70-46 to advance.
% Sumiton Christian: The Eagles are surrounded by ranked teams in their first-ever regional appearance. Sumiton Christian was 0-6 in sub-region contests since 2001 before downing Falkville 63-50 last Friday. DeMonte Hobbs had the hot hand with 18 points. Vann Lovelady lumped in 12 for the Eagles, who were 9 of 12 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Sumiton Christian sports two decisive losses to Parrish this season.
% Phillips: Regional finalists in 2009 and 2010, the Bears are back at Wallace State in search of their first regional wins since. Phillips scrapped by R.A. Hubbard 67-65 in a sub-regional showdown. The Bears have two double-digit losses to Belgreen, as well as a one-point win, this season. They’ve used the 3-ball to pile on the points, scoring at least 71 points 13 times this winter, according to games listed on the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s website.
% Parrish: The Tornadoes, the only returner from last year’s 1A field, came a single point away from beating Marion County for the Northwest Regional Tournament title in 2013. Parrish is nearing two months since their last loss, a 51-44 affair against 4A Sipsey Valley. The only other defeat was to 6A Hueytown in early December. The Tornadoes had six players — Reginald Harris topped the list with 17 points — crack double digits in an 84-30 sub-regional stomping of Decatur Heritage.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.